August 16, 2022
Sunday I mentioned that Paul wrote the letters to the Ephesians and
Colossians around the same time period. Therefore, there are many
similarities between the letters. For instance, we looked at Ephesians
4:20-24 which says:
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (ESV)
Similarly, Colossians 3:9-10 says:
9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in owledge after the image of its creator. (ESV)
These verses are similar, but with one
significant difference. In Colossians the old self has already been
taken off and the new self has already been put on. In Ephesians, Paul
commands the believers to put off the old self and put on the new self.
So why the difference? And how does this relate to the question: Is
Paul just teaching positive thinking in Ephesians (i.e., thinking
positive thoughts about ourselves so that we would change)?
On Sunday I mentioned the theological concept of inaugurated
eschatology, but we didn’t have time to explain it (many of you are
probably so glad we didn't! 😊). But it’s a significant concept to understand when talking about our growth in Christ.
So what is inaugurated eschatology? “Eschatology” is the study of the
last days. “Inaugurated” means to begin or to introduce. So the last
days were introduced and begun by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Gospels Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God as something awaiting future fulfillment (e.g.- Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; 25:1-46, Luke 19:11-27). On the other hand, Jesus also talked about the Kingdom of God as a present reality (Luke 4:16-21, Matthew 12:28). We can diagram it in this way.
Jesus came to earth, He inaugurated or introduced the kingdom of God.
However, it will not be fully realized until Christ returns a second
time to establish His millennial kingdom here on earth. In the
meantime, we live in this transitional age of the “already-but-not-yet”
kingdom, i.e.—the kingdom of God which has already been inaugurated, but
not yet fully consummated.
That is why in some places in the New Testament, theological truths seem
to be stated as promises that have already been fulfilled, while in
other the places those same promises seem to await a future fulfilling.1
We have seen this in some of the promises we read in Ephesians about
being blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms and
about us seated with Christ in the heavenlies.
So going back to our original question: Why the difference in Ephesians
4:20-24 and Colossians 3:9-10? Colossians emphasizes “the already,”
while Ephesians emphasizes the “not yet.” Yet it is important to know
that the only reason why we can put off the old self and put on the new
self is that God has already declared it to be true of us. This is what
makes this vastly different from just positive thinking. As I
mentioned on Sunday, Christian growth is NOT becoming someone you are
not yet, rather it is becoming the person you already are in Christ.
This is not just double talk! Rather God has already declared that our
new self is our true identity—it’s our true identity because in the
fully realized kingdom of God, that is what we will be like for
eternity. God not only knows this, but He has already experienced us in
this state! So even though you are not yet perfect, because of Jesus
Christ, you already have a new identity in Him!
Allow me to illustrate this in another way. Imagine if God allowed you
to enter a time machine and you were propelled into the future. You are
now living in your glorified state. You are perfect in every
way—perfect spiritually, physical, emotionally, mentally, etc. You have
one sole desire—to live for the glory of God and every thought and
action are pleasing to Him. But after a few years in this glorious,
joyous state, you realize something—you realize that you never finished
living your earthly life. You realize that there was God-ordained work
for you to do that you never finished. You realize that there were
lives to touch for Jesus Christ that you hadn’t touched—people whom God
wanted to use you to reach with the life-transforming Gospel. And so
you talk to Jesus about it and He gives you permission to go back in
time to finish out your earthly life. So now you are back here in the
present. Do you think you would live any differently, knowing what it
was like to be completely made new in your new self?
Similarly, God says to live in light of that new, true identity! So
take off the old self and put on the new self, because the new self is
who you already are in Christ!
1 For instance, consider our salvation. The majority of
verses in the New Testament refer to salvation as something we have
already received in the past when we placed our faith in Christ For
instance, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, 8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Note that “saved” is in the past tense. But 1 Peter 1:8-9 says, 8 "Though
you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you
believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled
with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
In these verses, salvation is something we are currently “obtaining” in
the present (cf. 1 John 1:9). Finally, Romans 13:11 says, 11 “Besides
this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from
sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”
In this last verse, salvation is clearly something in the future. So
is salvation past, present, or future? The answer is yes! It is past,
present, and future! This is because our salvation is related to this
theological concept of the “already-but-not-yet kingdom.”